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Camping with kids at festivals is rewarding and frustrating in equal measure. Despite running around all day, playing swingball in fits of glee, they rarely fall asleep anywhere near normal bedtime yet paradoxically wake at the crack of dawn, as the first glow of sunlight forces its way through increasingly stuffy canvas. Which would explain the weary expressions on the faces of parents in the queues for coffee and bacon sandwiches early Saturday morning at Deer Shed festival. Plenty simply hadn’t bothered to get dressed, waiting in line in pyjamas and Crocs for the calories and caffeine which would finally drag them into the realm of the waking.
As good a place as any to eat breakfast was the Big Top tent, with Paul Cookson and Stan Cullimore for company. Stan used to be in The Housemartins, so he can play the ukulele and now sings songs for kids rather than blather on about how good Hull is. Paul Cookson used to be a teacher, so knows how to handle a crowd of over-excited children, and trades in performance poetry when not accompanying Cullimore on the ukulele. He has one particularly memorable routine in which he impersonates his teenage daughter’s head-shaking, hand-waving putdowns: “Wha-eva, major loser!” Elsewhere, the Stan sings a song about the virtues or otherwise of his musical partner’s digestive system, which of course brings the house down. A great way to banish the cobwebs.
Leeds’ Post War Glamour Girls do a good job of convincing people to buy their début album ‘Pink Fur’. Its scuzzy, incessant grooves infected with gothic despair are ironically just the ticket to really launch into Saturday PM. The shadow of Nick Cave hangs heavy over them; indeed, the male-female interplay recalls Cave and Minogue at their most lugubrious. After all that, how bad can one’s life be in comparison? Dublin’s Raglans do exactly what you might expect of a few likely lads equipped with guitars from Ireland’s party city. Upbeat, jolly ditties, delivered with irrepressible enthusiasm. Their song entitled ‘White Lightning’ might raise queasy memories of last night’s cider-induced hangover, but apart from that, they deserve full marks for kicking the Main Stage into life.
With nothing of interest to follow on the Main Stage, it’s to the comedy tent to witness Wes Zaharuk (yet another name misspelled in the programme). His brand of shambolic, power tool-assisted slapstick comedy has the power to have an audience in tears of laughter in short order, and gives any manner of ideas for mayhem to errant toddlers. A whole toilet roll is unravelled in someone’s face using some sort of power blower, and a lucky lady gets to feed Wes a banana. From behind. Without looking. It’s unclear how he gets away with it, but give praise to the god of slapstick that he does.
Happyness are the perfect mid-afternoon tent band. Their chilled-out obscurantist rock proves how effective the power trio lineup can still be. Their songs have a deceptive superficial simplicity in which hides all manner of clever guitar work and surrealist lyrical content. ‘Refrigerate Her’, anyone? The irony of their name versus their faux-glum onstage banter doesn’t go unnoticed, either. With their début album now released, Happyness deserve increasing recognition for their West-Coast-by-way-of-South-London vibes – and they’re certainly headed in the right direction.
Unfortunately Catfish and the Bottlemen are indisposed, so Bleech play for the second time in 2 days. Which means that We Were Evergreen’s upcoming claim to Deer Shed fame – that they’d be the first act to play the main stage twice – is cruelly usurped by fate at the last possible moment. Which makes it even more inexplicable when the compere introduces “We Are Evergreen [sic], the first band ever to play the Main Stage twice!” just after Bleech had finished playing their second Main Stage set. Evergreen’s name had been misspelled throughout the catalogue and lanyard – one would imagine that a band that had played before would have better name recognition than the others, but apparently not. Anyway, a bit of a low point, credibility-wise.
What wasn’t a low point was We Were Evergreen’s actual set. Fortunately, the Parisian three-piece multi-instrumentalists can remember their own name and what to play. They’ve taken their time releasing their début album ‘Towards’, but the wait has been worth it. They’re complete antithesis of a guitar band: yes, they have a Telecaster and a ukulele, but they work in deference to the song, instead of the song being an incidental excuse for six-stringed excess. It’s impossible to overstate the songwriting efficiency that goes into a song like ‘False Start’: its funkiness is off the scale, there’s hooks galore, and the whole thing hangs in the air with a citric freshness of style for which merely being Gallic isn’t sufficient explanation. The closer ‘Belong’ has a climax of such theatrical intensity that it leaves the crowd in raptures of applause. There isn’t enough time in universe to get bored with it. We Were Evergreen deserve widespread acclaim, as do Deer Shed for hosting them twice – let’s hope they get their name right third time around.
Summer Camp play the “In the Dock” stage, which is a tent, but they surely would have worked just as well on the main stage, such is the power of their funkily intense pop music. Indeed, Summer Camp are perhaps the perfect intelligent pop band, with just the right blend of sugary melodies, acerbic observational lyrics, and a decent slug of wig-out when they’re really powering on. There’s some cuts from their recent ‘Beyond Clueless’ semi-soundtrack album, but the greatest acclaim is reserved for their back-catalogue classics – ‘Better Off Without You’ from ‘Welcome To Condale’ is received like an old friend. Elizabeth Sankey is a woodland diva, her tremulous soprano lending an air of dignity to the acerbic lyrics, whilst Jeremy Walmsley’s ’80s retro grooves ensure that any joints that may have become stiff in the evening breeze are well-loosened in anticipation of our headliner.
And so we come to Johnny Marr. In part 1 it was already established that Mr Marr is the most successful Deer Shed headliner ever, and outlined the reasons for it. Suffice to say that to these ears, seeing Marr live is actually superior to seeing the Smiths in their pomp: Marr’s voice is adequate but nothing spectacular, which leaves the music and songs space to breathe – the whole isn’t dominated by a preening diva flouncing around. Having said that, Marr is a surprisingly good mimic, his tone and inflection an impressive imitation of Morrissey’s, and indeed Neil Tennant’s for that matter. He played a decent mixture of solo songs, Smiths classics, one or two from Electronic, and a fine rendition of ‘I Fought The Law’. The enormous crowd gave a rapturous welcome, and even though this was surely a modest crowd by Marr standards, it was perhaps one of the most appreciative. It turns out an elder statesman headliner is perfect for the of-a-certain-age Deer Shed demographic. The mind boggles as to where this could lead – there’s no dearth of ex-singers or guitarists from respected bands which were active over the last two or three decades, any of which would be a perfect fit for Baldersby Park. More on this topic in part 3…
Keep it here on TGTF for the conclusion of Martin’s time at Deer Shed Festival 2014 coming soon.
On Saturday the 26th of July, on the occasion of its fifth birthday, Deer Shed Festival finally came of age. I mean no disrespect to Villagers or Darwin Deez, but Johnny Marr is the perfect climax to Saturday night at Deer Shed. He drew a crowd to Baldersby Park’s gently sloping natural auditorium unmatched in both size and enthusiasm than in any previous year. By virtue of writing the music to countless songs that soundtracked the lives of the adults in the crowd when they were young, free, and unencumbered by the offspring who were variously marauding around the site in frenzied glee or asleep in their arms despite the noise, for an hour or so they gave Marr their undivided attention and appreciation as he reeled off one classic after another.
Even though perhaps not as much a household name as his Smithsian lyricist and singer, by virtue of avoiding the latter’s rum pronouncements on vegetarianism, race, and sexuality, and sticking to what he does best – playing decent music – Marr succeeds in a similar, but much larger fashion, to that which Gaz Coombes did the previous year. A combination of life-affirming back catalogue hits, each of which instantly evoke dusty memories of life past, together with new material that easily stands shoulder-to-shoulder with the older stuff, is a recipe for success at Deer Shed Festival. Thusly are memories of the future made.
But Deer Shed Festival is far from being just the Johnny Marr show, and the adventure commenced the previous sultry afternoon. For those that don’t know, Deer Shed festival is held in North Yorkshire, just off the A1 on the way to Thirsk, in the beautiful grounds of Baldersby Park. The unwritten rule of Deer Shed: bring the kids. Even though the music is as good as anywhere, the real focus is on giving children a good time throughout the weekend, so if you’ve an aversion to the little blighters, look elsewhere. If you need an event where the kids are kept amused as Dad moshes down the front, Deer Shed is for you.
After a less-than-arduous 5-minute walk from car park to campsite, silently congratulating oneself for attending an event of a sensible acreage, and a bout of fumbling with canvas and string in the baking hot sunshine, refreshment and musical entertainment are less desired than demanded. Teleman were welcome succour. Comprising three of the admired Pete and the Pirates but swapping jaunty guitars for more considered electronica-enhanced melodies, they mix Erasure’s way with a dramatic synth-pop arc with Belle and Sebastian’s observational twee. All We Are eased the main stage into the late afternoon sunshine with the gentle ebb and flow of their gently atmospheric, shoegaze-influenced pop. Contenders for “The xx imitators of the Year” award, along with Woman’s Hour.
PINS are impeccable now. Watching them transform from a rickety band of noiseniks just a couple of years ago into today’s whirlwind of glamour and red lipstick is a life-affirming experience. They combine the power of 1970s New York glam-punk rock with an overlaid sweetness of melody and delicacy of touch comparable with any Supremes classic. While the phrase “girl band” has loaded connotations of manufactured, shallow pop nonsense, bands like PINS are doing their best to reclaim it for groups of talented musicians who just happen to be women. Whether or not there’s any great feminist insight is open to debate, but nevertheless, theirs was one of the performances of the weekend.
Next comes the only major misstep of programming of the whole weekend. Just as the sun starts to think about lazily drifting towards the horizon, and the main stage crowd are tucking into their evening meal of organic houmous and vintage prosecco, along come Toy to blast away the early evening reverie. On record, TOY are more considered, melodic, and song-focused, but live they come across as an incessant wall of noise; they’ve got three guitars and they’re going to turn it them all up to 11. ‘Join the Dots’, the title track from their début album, is a case in point – its climax of multi-layered guitars, phased into the next universe, is an undoubtedly viscerally thrilling piece of music, but perhaps not enjoyable if it disturbs little Johnny’s digestion and makes the whole family go scrabbling around for the ear defenders.
It’s not that they’re a bad band. Far from it. In fact, along with Temples, they’re one of the most convincing neo-psych bands in the country right now. But in this instance it’s a case of right band, wrong stage. Various overheard grumbles pay testament, including the old classic, “it’s just noise!” A considerable chunk of the Deer Shed crowd rock up to the main stage auditorium in the morning with their camping chairs and stay there all day, so in a way have little choice as to what they are made to listen to. Whatever is on the main stage influences the enjoyment of the entire site, and the Friday evening slot needs to be something less challenging, a little funkier, to properly match the mood of the audience.
A band on the correct stage are Dan Le Sac vs. Scroobius Pip – they play the tented Lodge stage, so aural participation is distinctly optional – but certainly recommended. Pip’s gently political and moderately sweary diatribes (“that last song had an MF in it, sorry parents!”) combined with Sac’s dubstep-flavoured soundtrack excites many audience members into a display of such extrovert dad-dancing that any child would be excruciatingly embarrassed. The atmosphere in the tent is genuinely charged with enthusiasm; Deer Shed’s first foray into urban/rap/hip-hop is superbly received. More please. In common with several other acts, Pip seems genuinely pleased to have such a diverse range of ages in the audience – officially the most people on shoulders ever at one of their gigs, as children are raised aloft to experience “the man with his head on upside down”.
The main stage headliner is British Sea Power, but inevitably for many parents their slot coincided with trying to settle one or more very excited children to sleep. They sounded great from the campsite. When eventually the kids are settled, the last attraction of Friday is the genius that is Darius Battiwalla accompanying a silent film: this year, The Hunchback Of Notre Dame. It was intended to be The Cabinet Of Dr Caligari but had to be changed for licensing reasons, which would have suited the time travel theme far better, and also the patience of the crowd: Caligari is a mere 67 minutes long, whereas Hunchback is over 2 hours. Whilst I’d happily listen to Battiwalla play over a cornflake advert, that’s a long time to spend watching Lon Cheney gurning, and by the time the film’s impenetrable plot reached its climax, the audience were variously physically uncomfortable or sound asleep. It’s surprising how loud a small boy’s snores can be in the auditorium of a silent film!
Stay tuned for more of Martin’s coverage of Deer Shed coming soon on TGTF.
Jon Allen is a relative latecomer to the music biz – he released his début album ‘Dead Man’s Suit’ in 2009 at the ripe old age of 32. It’s been 3 years since 2011’s blues-influenced, Jools Holland-approved ‘Sweet Defeat’, but Allen is back, slightly wrinklier and considerably hairier, with ‘Deep River’, released this month. The mournful live version ‘Falling Back’ is free to watch, and it’s a corker of a thing, beautifully played, with nary a second of wasted space in the arrangement. There’s some card game metaphors in there, but surely he’s too upset to have just lost a few quid.
Allen has an uncanny knack for mimicking a plethora of rock ‘n’ roll legends. ‘Down By the River’ sounds for all the word like a long-lost Rod Stewart hit from 1972. Swing-blues ‘Fire in My Heart’ wouldn’t be out of place in Clapton’s canon, perhaps released in his millennial revival period. There are echoes of José Gonzales’ glassy nylon-string fingerpicking, and even, in the Hammond organ washes and mid-tempo strumming, hints of Pink Floyd’s later years.
All of which means if one fancies an evening with one of the great folk-rock performers, but can’t decide which one, then don’t despair. Put on something by Jon Allen, or even better, go and and see him live, and he’ll run you through some originals that sound just like the real thing. Which is no mean feat indeed.
Allen tours the UK in October and November. ‘Deep River’ is out now on Monologue Records.
Not content with being a successful yet obscurantist singer-songwriter with a penchant for self-depreciating everyday glamour, Courtney Barnett is also the proprietor of Milk! Records, the increasingly relevant Melbourne-based record label that she set up herself, rather than go to all the bother of letting someone else sign her up. A commendable effort indeed, even more so when one peruses her astute roster. Jen Cloher’s scuzzy blues-rock proves she’s got as many Lou Reed records in her collection as Rolling Stones ones. Fraser A. Gorman purveys wonderfully convincing old-time country – even more remarkable given the fact he’s Melburnian rather than Texan. Royston Vasie may not have the most original name (its third appearance in popular culture by my reckoning), but they’ve got a decent line in Dandy Warhols-esque garage-pop.
But back to Courtney. To celebrate the release of an upcoming Milk! Records compilation, she’s released ‘Pickles From the Jar’, one of the most unconventional – not to mention sweetly touching – loves songs one is likely to hear all year. Complete with false start, using the tried-and-tested White Stripes arrangement of clangy guitar and earnestly-thudded drums – she’s in love with a man who’s 15 years her senior, and culturally separated by 1,000 miles. But never fear! They bond over a shared love of Christopher Walken – an unlikely cupid, but hey, the man’s a genius, there’s nothing he can’t turn his hand to.
All the bands mentioned here are included on the compilation, to be released on the 31st of August. Their AU$5,000 funding target was crowdsourced on the very first day, but some pledges are still available. For instance, for a bargain £27, one can be the very proud owner of a signed, limited edition 10” vinyl copy. What is hugely encouraging about this project is the level of enthusiasm for artifacts – of music as object rather than transient pleasure. For instance, all three of the “Super Collector” options have sold – what you get for your £111 is a test pressing of Barnett’s second EP, a “virtually extinct” copy of a Jen Cloher / Courtney Barnett split 7”, in addition to the new 10”. That’s it. Unless it’s their parents buying them, this is one seriously hot record label right now. As is Melbourne, for that matter.
Dr. Martens have withstood the onslaught of – and reinvented themselves through – many – if not all – musical eras, fads, and fashions. No doubt ‘60s rockers found them very handy for keeping their feet protected from the tarmac, forcing a sticky gearlever to shift on a careworn Triumph and for kicking mods in the shins. Into the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, punk and the skinhead movement found DMs perfectly matched their aggressive image, even though most punks no doubt went home to their mums to tuck them in with a cup of cocoa at night.
Later on in the decade, as the hardness of punk split into gothic nihilism and dayglo optimism, Dr. Martens could be found on the feet of both groups – the perfect match to both a pair of leather trousers and a floaty flower-print dress. And then came the 1990s, and with it came grunge, a musical movement tailor made for a decent pair of sturdy footwear. Truth be told, there’s barely an era in music that DMs haven’t been associated with, continuing to the present day. So it’s no surprise that the brand has decided to become directly involved in a bit of music promotion.
Now in its second year, the Dr. Martens #standforsomething tour promises to repeat last year’s achievement of “taking some of the most exciting live acts around into tiny venues”. Which makes it sound like they’ve managed to get White Denim to play a phone box, and that isn’t really the case. I’m not sure the venues involved would agree with the “tiny” description – Newcastle’s Cluny 2 has raked seating, a balcony and 160 capacity. Nor is it unusual for the bands involved to play mid-size venues: Eagulls are playing the Cluny on their own headline tour, for instance.
Such pedantry aside, Dr. Martens have come up with an exciting, directional lineup, heavy on bands that feature the words “post”, “punk”, or indeed “post-punk” in their bios. Wales’ Funeral for a Friend have been plying post-punk pop with a distinctly American twist for over a decade now, and the public’s appetite shows no sign of waning. Leeds’ Eagulls are a touch more ramshackle, more punk and less metal, but nonetheless play in the same league.
A pattern emerges when we come to We are the Ocean – distorted, upbeat guitar riffs, insistent, double-tracked vocals and clean-as-a-whistle production. Only their mothers could tell them apart from Funeral. Things take a left-field turn in Los Campesinos! (pictured at top); instead of distorted guitars, there’s violins, any manner of improvised percussion and vocals that are more sung than screamed.
And then there’s the matter of Sydney’s Tonight Alive. Fresh from gracing the soundtrack of the latest Spiderman film, Jenna McDougall brings her impressively toned abdomen and similarly toned vocal cords to the humble environs of Newcastle’s Cluny 2. A combination of laid-back Australian surf style and distinctly Transatlantic musical chops, there’s no doubt that Tonight Alive will bring a dose of glamour to Tyneside – and to be fair to the promoters, considering the auditoria Tonight Alive are used to playing, the Cluny may indeed appear tiny in comparison.
When you boil it down, #standforsomething is nothing more than a short series of unrelated gigs across the country with a rather large marketing budget attached. The bands are already touring the UK: Tonight Alive, for instance, hit London, Birmingham, Manchester and Glasgow, completely independently, before their Martens-sponsored Newcastle date. Similarly, this gig closes We are the Ocean’s and Funeral for a Friend’s tours, whereas it falls directly in the middle of Eagulls’. Nonetheless, a good bit of promotion for some decent bands never goes amiss, so whichever way you slice it, if you’re into DMs, good music, or perhaps even both, there’s no better way to spend a night with your fellow leather enthusiasts. And you might bounce home with a bit of free swag. Catch the tour on the dates listed below and register on the Dr. Martens Web site here to register for tickets.
Saturday 4th October 2014 – Edinburgh Cabaret Voltaire starring Funeral for a Friend
Saturday 11th October 2014 – Cardiff Clwb Ifor Bach starring Eagulls
Saturday 25th October 2014 – Liverpool Shipping Forecast starring We are the Ocean
Saturday 8th November 2014 – London Lexington – TBA
Saturday 22nd November 2014 – Birmingham Flapper starring Los Campesinos!
Saturday 6th December 2014 – Newcastle Cluny 2 starring Tonight Alive
‘Slider’ is the first single to be taken from Bo Ningen’s third album, the appropriately entitled ‘III’. The video is directed by London-based fashion film director Marie Schuller, who swathes the band within her obsessive monochrome geometry. The stylish, stylised video combines vintage techniques like video feedback with digital manipulation – a combination which echoes the band’s blend of 60s garage psychedelia and contemporary avant-garde rock. Guitars squall and squeal as if in protest of being distorted into shards of tremoloed treble.
In its four-to-the-floor groove and conventional vocal melody, ‘Slider’ is one of the more accessible tracks on ‘III’, lacking the atonal primal screams found on the rest of the album; one suspects a strong Yoko Ono influence. But as if to prove me wrong, with a rarity akin to the blooming of Amorphophallus titanum, the band drop briefly into 5/4 time halfway through the track to create a memorably audacious middle eight. Bo Ningen have been going for a while now, but if this video is anything to go by, their live performance will be crackling with garage-y, psychedelic energy. They play Sheffield’s Tramlines festival on 27th July, before returning to the UK in November to support Band of Skulls.
Bo Ningen’s single ‘Slider’ appears on their third album ‘III’ out now on Stolen Recordings.